THE SUPPORT DRIVER
(or the Tour de Nevada)
The first e-mail arrived early this year: "Mother, I have a wild idea. After finals, I'd like to drive to Jerome, (Idaho) with my stuff, and then, if I can find a support driver, ride my bicycle back to Los Angeles for graduation.." My daughter Mavis had not only earned a degree at California State University at Northridge, she had discovered a passion for long-distance cycling but this was the most ambitious undertaking yet. And what does a support driver do? I asked. The driver carries food, water, extra clothes and camping gear, and serves as the voice of reason if the cyclist gets a bit light-headed from too many hours on the road. In short, the same duties as a parent. Feeling adequately qualified, I volunteered. As we crept across Nevada toward that major milestone, college graduation, I had a lot of time to reflect on the past 23 years of parenting and how much of that had been support driving..
I once asked Mavis what her advice to parents of another deaf child would be. She said "Keep your doubts to yourself.. Let your child try, don't discourage them." Los Angeles is over 800 miles from Jerome, Idaho. So.Keep your doubts to yourself. Mavis modified the plan for herself when she found she'd have less time than she thought between finals and graduation, and three tough classes left her with less time for training. Still, she was determined to see how far she could go, given the time she had.
Research the route! I bought some detailed maps and added up mileages. How I remember reading everything I could find about deafness, trying to figure out which road to take. Set goals but tailor them to fit your cyclist and the conditions. Mavis decided that anything over 400 miles would make her happy. I pointed out that California was about 500 miles, and that there were several little passes to climb but nothing really major; perhaps we could at least make it to the state line.
Pack carefully . There are things that you will be able to pick up along the way, but be prepared for all kinds of weather and bicycle repairs. Stores and motels are widely spaced in Nevada.
Let your cyclist set the pace! Remember that your child is the one doing the work. Encourage, don't pressure, and don't follow too closely. I waited beside the road for 20 minutes or so, then caught up with Mavis, passed her, and pulled off the road again. She would stop if she needed a new water bottle or a bite to eat; otherwise, she'd whiz on by.
Offer food (encouragement) in small doses at frequent intervals, more frequently on upgrades! When the going gets tough, look back to see how far you've come. When your original goal looks impossible, don't quit, but keep moving toward it. Even slow progress adds up. On our third day, we ran into stiff headwinds as Highway 6 veered west. Mavis was at one point reduced to walking her bicycle uphill and upwind. We could tell that the dream of a motel bed in Tonopah was slipping away. I cheerfully announced that another night of sleeping in the car was just fine with me, and Mavis kept right on battling the wind. As she struggled up another hill, I stepped out of the car to take her picture. "WHY??" she asked. I explained that the evening lighting was beautiful, and told her to look behind her. The last two hours of road lay stretched across the valley, as only roads in Nevada can stretch, into a tiny thread disappearing over the previous pass. Yes, we were making progress!
Practical skills are important, too. As parents of deaf and hard of hearing children, we tend to focus on language skills and academics, sometimes forgetting that these are only a means to an end...a competent adult. I watched Mavis-the-bicycle-mechanic in action, and grew to appreciate Mavis-the-money-manager, who's supported an expensive hobby on a college budget by finding used equipment and shopping wisely.
Advocate for your child, but use caution, especially as they grow older. Mavis has always resented anything that might imply that she, as a deaf person, is in any way less competent than a hearing person. I never acquired a Deaf Child Area sign for our neighborhood, or sewed a Deaf Skier label on her jacket. On this occasion I got an opening. Mavis came up with the idea to put a sign in the rear window of the car to warn motorists to watch for her. As diplomatically as possible, I put out the suggestion that we make it read Caution: Deaf Cyclist Ahead. Mavis agreed! With her rear-view mirror and thousands of miles of cycling experience, hearing was not an issue to her, but she knows how careless drivers can be around cyclists, and was willing to accept the word "deaf". if it would make motorists freak out. and give her an extra couple of inches. One of her cycling buddies (hearing) was killed last year when he crashed after being side-swiped by an SUV.
Make the most of the experience. Keep a record: I have a small file of baby signs. captured on film, a boxful of Mavis's artwork and literary efforts, plus my lab notes. from those first months of sign language use. Memories fade but mementos are forever.
Take time for yourself. Read books, pursue hobbies, and go for walks. (I made good use of my 20-minute stopovers.)
Enjoy the journey. Not everyone gets to travel across Nevada at a cyclist's pace, and very few get to raise a deaf child. I'll never look at a long stretch of highway in quite the same way; I've also gained perspectives on life and language I wouldn't have otherwise.
Three days and four hours after we started, we arrived in Bishop, California, 562 miles from Jerome, Idaho by bicycle odometer.